Most dentists will advise that patients use a soft or extra-soft toothbrush and certainly should never use one firmer than medium bristle. This is because a firm bristled brush can damage the gums and users often avoid brushing the base of the tooth because they get irritated by the bristles.
What does hard vs soft mean?
Toothbrushes are usually made with nylon bristles for hygiene as nylon dries quickly and does not harbour bacteria. Biodegradable toothbrushes come with bristles made of mostly bamboo or castor bean oil fibres but still have a percentage of nylon for strength. A few high-end fully compostable toothbrushes use boar or badger bristle.
Nylon bristles are graded according to how soft they are – i.e. how easily they flex. A thinner bristle will flex more than a thicker one. Soft bristles are less than 0.15mm in diameter while hard or firm bristles are more like 0.23mm. This may not seem like much, but if you rub your thumb over the top of the brush, you will quickly notice the difference.
Should I use a firm bristle toothbrush?
If using a firm bristle toothbrush will make you brush your teeth more frequently then continuing to do so is clearly the best course of action. Hard bristle toothbrushes are difficult to find on the high street but Superdrug stock the Reach hard bristle toothbrush which has an angled neck to aid in reaching the back teeth and an interdental bristle pattern of alternating low and high tufts to clean between teeth.
For most people, however, the advice is to avoid using hard bristle toothbrushes and instead swap to a softer head.
Soft bristles don’t clean my teeth as effectively!
When you clean your teeth, you are aiming to remove as much plaque and plaque-forming bacteria as possible. Plaque consists of around 1000 different bacteria types which form an invisible film over your teeth. Each single bacteria has a size of around 1 nanometer (μm), making them around 1,000 smaller than the width of a human hair. You simply cannot see them, so you have to rely on good brushing to move them from your teeth and away from your gums.
A soft toothbrush, correct brushing technique and anti-plaque toothpaste (containing at least 1,000ppm fluoride) is the best combination for most people. This allows the gum line to be brushed and plaque to be removed from all areas of the mouth without causing damage. If you feel that this is not sufficient to clean your teeth, then ask your dentist or dental hygienist to show you the most effective brushing technique.
To get the best from your toothbrush, you should use gentle slightly circular motions to sweep across the gum and towards the biting surface of the tooth. Side-to-side motions should be avoided as these can merely move the bacteria around the mouth without taking it off the teeth and into the saliva/toothpaste mix so they can be spat into the basin at the end of the brushing session.
One reason that people prefer firm bristle toothbrushes is that they feel that they have a better polishing effect on their teeth. Teeth naturally vary in shade and can be classified by the letters A, B, C, and D with numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 denoting the darkness of the shade, although this is not standardised and your dentist may use a different classification. Brushing with a firmer brush may assist in polishing away stains, and some firm bristle toothbrushes come impregnated with whitening agents to whiten your teeth while you brush. Use of such brushes needs to be weighed against the risk that you do not brush right down to the gum and that damage to the enamel could cause your teeth to discolour further.
Hard vs Soft bristles
If you are still unsure if a soft bristle toothbrush or hard bristle toothbrush is right for you then here is a handy comparison table of the pros and cons of each type.
|Bristle diameter of around 0.23mm||Maximum diameter of around 0.15mm – some ultra soft brushes may be as thin as 0.01mm|
|Care needs to be taken to brush around the gums as users of hard toothbrushes are prone to avoiding this area.||Easier to brush bacteria from the gums as the brush doesn’t irritate the delicate tissues.|
|Hard bristles are less prone to splaying over time.||Splayed bristles indicate an overly firm brushing action.|
|Those with stained teeth may prefer the extra polishing action and whitening that a firm brush offers.||Silicone polishing cups and fins perform the same action.|
|Should not be used if you have bleeding gums (gingivitis) or other gum issues.||Can be used to assist in healing and protecting gums from damage.|
|Should only be used on adult teeth.|
Can be used by the whole family including babies.
You can also take a look at our reviews of soft bristle toothbrushes click here.
Like all toothbrushes, hard bristle toothbrushes offer various features to help keep your teeth clean. A full list of toothbrush features can be found in our overview of manual toothbrushes.
Most firm toothbrushes have a very simple bristle pattern – usually straight cut or wave-cut (alternating tufts of high and low bristles to fit around tooth contours better and fit between teeth).
Hard brush heads can be diamond shaped to assist in getting into tight spots in your mouth or the traditional square end.
Some brushes have angled handles, such as the Reach Hard bristle toothbrush, to make getting to the back of your teeth easier.
Where to buy?
Dentists advise that most people should use a soft or medium toothbrush. Consequently, hard bristle toothbrushes are less commonly available. Superdrug and Boots have a few hard brushes (sometimes known as Smoker’s or Stain Removal brushes)